I was at the dentist’s office the other day for routine maintenance, and he asked me a question about my permanent false tooth.
The quick summary: I lost my real tooth as a seven-year-old when a cement stair came out of nowhere and tripped me – and I had a permanent tooth known as a Maryland bridge installed right before I started college. To non-dentists, the tooth looks normal – but the inside is a silvery black color.
“Your Maryland bridge is slowly showing some signs of age,” my dentist said. “Do you want to talk about doing something now, or do you want to wait until something happens to it?
“It’s probably fine, but you never know.”
Actually, I told him I do know. I have a story from my Cubs days to share, as anyone who knows me knows this could have only happened to me.
It was March 2000, and the Cubs were set to open the campaign against the New York Mets in Tokyo. I was part of the travel party going to Japan.
I’m not exactly the international traveler. Up to that point – and every trip since – I have never set foot outside of the U.S. or Canada. Flying on one of those real big planes was a new experience.
The Cubs flew on a charter from Phoenix to San Francisco – then traveled to Tokyo on a 747.
The players were on the upper level – yes, a plane with stairs! – and were sipping their Dom Perignons for the flight.
The important Cubs executives (ie: Andy MacPhail) sat in first class, far removed from the riff raff. Coaches traveling with family members and media sat in the back third of the plane. Other travel party members like me sat in business class.
Now, this was 2000 – not 2016. It was really cool to be in an airplane that had TV channels (I had a six-way seat/recliner with a personal pop-up TV screen), and meal service came every few hours with choices. The plane had a menu.
About an hour in to our 11-hour flight, the first meal was served. I don’t remember what it was, but it was good. And then the flight attendant offered dessert choices.
“How about a Haagen Dazs bar?
Sure, how about a Haagen Dazs bar. For a person with a false tooth, what could go wrong biting into a fudge-covered brick of ice?
So there I was, about 90 minutes into a flight to Tokyo, hearing and feeling a crunch inside my mouth that clearly wasn’t Haagen Dazs. I knew immediately that something wasn’t right. Ice cream doesn’t sound like that.
I asked my seatmate, the legendary Chip Caray, if my mouth looked right.
“You look fine,” Chip said with a straight face. And then, you could almost hear the drum roll. “Let’s get Jimmy. Hey Jimmy, come over here. You gotta see this.”
Jimmy was Jimmy Bank, the traveling secretary. If Chip was summoning Jimmy, I knew it was bad.
I had, in fact, broken off the front half of the tooth. I had not, however, broken through the whole bridge. Behind the fake tooth was this silver metal-like substance. I looked like Alfred E. Neuman. You know, the Mad Magazine “What Me Worry?” guy.
If you have a shiny gold tooth … you’re a star. A silvery black spot where there’s supposed to be a tooth … you’re Chuck Wasserstrom.
Our team physician, Dr. Stephen Adams, was on the flight. In his own inimitable way, he assured me that it didn’t look good and that I might live. He also said he’d look for a dentist once we were in Tokyo.
I survived the razzing on the flight. I was even invited upstairs for some Dom to wash away the mental pain.
Dr. Adams did as he said he would, finding a Tokyo dentist who would see me right away. Being that this was international, I was a little leery. He told me that Cubs insurance had to cover this, though, so I shouldn’t worry about it.
The first full day in Tokyo, he accompanied me to the dentist’s office – and we were greeted by two nice people who didn’t speak a word of English. I smiled … the dentist and his assistant saw the tooth and basically recoiled in horror … and Dr. Adams said, “Let’s get out of here. Have your own dentist take care of this.”
So there I was, toothless in Tokyo. I made sure to cover up my upper half of teeth while talking and smiling.
The rest of the week in Tokyo went without incident toothwise, and I did my best not to scare anyone. The Maryland bridge was eventually repaired when we returned to Chicago, which is another story – as I was in the dentist’s chair half a day after the 14-hour flight home. Thanks to the wonders of a body clock, let’s just say I didn’t need any anesthetic.
So, as I told my new dentist, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Exploding tooth? Been there, done it. At 35,000 feet.